Disability Rights Advocates Calling for Emergency Preparedness Training at Key Airports
Americas, Disaster, News, October 20 2017
DENVER, CO: Nationally recognized airport security expert, Capt. LaPonda Fitchpatrick, and Associate Director of the Center for Disability and Health Policy, June Kailes, are joining airport workers in Denver to call for a whole community approach to emergency preparedness, including ensuring that passenger service workers are fully trained and paid liveable wages that will keep experienced workers on the job. The calls for a safe and secure airport in Denver come as Boston Logan, Ft. Lauderdale, O’Hare, and Midway airports all have taken similar measures in response to airport shootings. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO) have already taken steps to reduce turnover and improve training.
“Travelers expect that airlines will keep them safe from the moment they check in to when they land,” says Capt. LaPonda Fitchpatrick, who conceived and implemented multi-agency safety and security measures at LAX after 9-11. “Passenger service personnel are in constant contact with these travelers. They should be an integral part of any emergency response planning.”
There have been 275 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2017 and Colorado has been the site of several high-profile mass shootings in the past. Airline contractors at Denver International Airport (DEN) employ more than 2,700 passenger service workers, including skycaps, wheelchair attendants, security checkpoint workers, aircraft cleaners, and baggage handlers, yet a new survey conducted by SEIU exposes a lack of training for these front-line employees. Only 45% of workers surveyed have been trained on where to direct passengers during an emergency. Two-thirds of wheelchair attendants surveyed report not having been trained on emergency evacuations.
“We are the eyes and ears of the 6th busiest airport in the country. We are in and around the entire airport. With the proper training, we could help travelers in an emergency,” says Said Ahmed, a Cabin Cleaner at DEN.
In addition to a lack of training, the survey found that 67% of passenger service workers were only on the job for a year or less. Citing a UC Berkeley report released today that strongly links better wages with higher employee retention and improved airport security, advocates are calling for liveable wages and the freedom to form a union, in addition to training.
“Our research shows that when airport workers are paid higher wages, turnover goes down and work performance improves, leading to a safer and more secure airport,” says Ken Jacobs, Chair of the Labor Center, UC Berkeley.
The tragic events at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport this year and at LAX in 2013 have exposed a shocking lack of emergency preparedness and served as a wake-up call in cities across the country. A growing chorus of elected officials, security experts and airport workers is implementing solutions:
- In August in Lauderdale, a recent report found that 65% of contracted airport workers did not receive emergency training. The report found that a lack of training contributed to the chaos following the shooting earlier this year. Airport workers and elected officials are calling for mandatory training and living wages.
- In late September in Boston, elected officials recently stood with front-line airport workers and announced legislationthat would close a major security loophole at Boston’s Logan airport.
- In early September in Chicago, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that gives nearly 8,000 airport workers a raise, the right to form a union, and emergency training at O’Hare and Midway.
Other airports already recognize the critical role of passenger service workers in emergency response and have adopted policies to ensure that these workers are adequately trained and have a more stable workforce. At LAX and SFO, airport workers, airlines, and contractors worked together to launch ground-breaking programs that gave workers the right to form a union, improved pay, and raised training standards—drastically reducing turnover and improving security.
“There is a lot we can do when the whole workforce has roles detailed in the emergency response playbook, but we need a larger bench,” says June Kailes, Associate Director of the Center for Disability and Health Policy. “This is not just the right thing to do—it is imperative that we do it. Our health, our safety, and our lives will depend on it.”